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Spotlight interview with David Bender, Associate Director, Digital

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As part of our ‘Spotlight’ series, we have been holding Q&A sessions with employees across the UK division to share their experience at Fiera, their views on the market and the challenges we are facing today. Our first interview was with David Bender, Associate Director, Digital UK.

What do you enjoy most about working at Fiera Real Estate?

The opportunity to influence and innovate within an important industry, during a time when there is enormous change. I also really appreciate a long-standing and successful company being open to new opportunities and approaches to their business – it’s quite rare and speaks to the people here.

How did you get into the real estate finance industry?

I’ve always been interested in real estate, city building, and urban policy – so I’d had the idea of doing something related to real estate in the back of my mind for some time. I also come from a banking and finance background in Canada, so I’ve seen how impactful finance and investing can be to drive positive change. Also, I just think that combining technology, geography and investing is really cool…

What do you think makes Fiera Real Estate stand out from other real estate investment managers?

For me the most obvious way that Fiera stands out is that a job like mine even exists here. A firm with close to 30 years of success investing in digitisation and data analytics speaks to a forward-focused strategy and a willingness to embrace change that, in my experience, is fairly unique.

What key challenges do you think our industry will have to navigate for the remainder of this year and how have today’s challenges changed when compared to 6 months ago?

My sense is that the big challenges, particularly in terms of technology adoption, have stayed largely the same. But what this crisis has done is radically shrink the time horizon that companies have to execute on those initiatives. Challenges such as shifting to digitisation, applying analytics and data, engaging tenants, or adapting to new ways of working were ahead of every business even before this year – but addressing them just can’t wait any longer.

What I think will be the real challenges will come not from the projects we need to start, but in having the discipline to stop activities that may not have been value-add in the first place. Space, time, attention, and collaboration are already being redefined for everyone through this experience and, in lots of ways, that is an opportunity to look critically at what we believed was ‘normal’ and ask: should it have been?

How have you found adapting to shift in working from home, and have you enjoyed being back in the office over the last few weeks?

I have been very lucky this year, in that I had great situations at home that set me up well for work. Also, I have previous experience working remotely so transitioning came fairly naturally for me. I was able to go back to the office for a day recently and it was great to see people and be back, although most of the benefits of the office environment won’t come until we are able to get a larger proportion of the teams in the same space.

Longer term, how do you think COVID-19 will affect our working behaviours?

As I mentioned above, I think the big change will be the acknowledgment that some of our pre-COVID working behaviours and patterns did not make much sense in the first place. Already we are starting to see many people reconsider where they live, shift transportation habits, and invest in new skills. My initial view would be that work in the future will be more clearly partitioned between ‘focus’ and ‘collaboration’, as employees and companies gain a better understanding of how best they execute on either type of work (e.g., at home for ‘heads down’ days, in the office for workshopping and brainstorming). This will inevitably influence our work behaviours, tools, and/or environments.

More importantly, on a larger scale there are considerations now that I don’t think that anyone can project. Globally, almost every aspect of our lives has been massively disrupted (for worse and for better) and for many, many people this has been incredibly traumatic. How what we have seen and experienced this year will change attitudes about work-life balance, economics, politics, urban planning, etc. is anyone’s guess… but there is no question that the impacts will reverberate for a very long time. With that, obviously our behaviours will change in some practical ways but we will all need to further develop adaptability to change as a behaviour and habit, in and of itself. On this last point I’m actually optimistic because – on an individual, company, and community level, at least – we have already seen remarkable examples of adaptability and resolve.